Transgender Discrimination, Both Sides of the Coin

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I’ve observed parallels between discrimination based on race and discrimination based on being transgender.  Examples abound as to the negative side of racism, and I don’t need to mention any of them.  But, racism can have peculiar positive effects too. I recall being in a business networking group when a gentleman from India wanted to join, and he was enthusiastically voted in either by an overwhelming majority. He was –is — a really nice guy, but he wasn’t personally a great fit for the group’s dynamic, and that was apparent to some folks even from the get-go. Eventually, the mismatch became so clear that everyone, himself included, thought it might be better off if he left the group. Later, I asked one of the folks in the group why he’d voted for the gentlemen, and he explained that it was purely a race-based decision, and there was no way he was going to stand in the way of a person of color joining this otherwise all-white group.  So, yes, there was racial discrimination in the decision but it was intentionally aimed to be in the gentleman’s favor. Ironically, this only helped short-term, and in the long run, objectivity might have been better.

I recall a debate among a group of Democratic Party presidential candidates, one of whom was Jesse Jackson, who is black and whom I don’t like very much — not because he’s black but because of his principles. As it happens, his principles make him a good fit for the Democratic Party (and by now you’ve probably guessed that I don’t like that party’s principles, either).

Whether I like him or not, I have to concede that he’s a smart guy with a lot of interesting things to say. The other half-dozen or so Democratic Party presidential candidate in the debate were all white.  I’m not sure it really should be called a debate. It was more of a verbal brawl, and the white candidates were brutally candid and sometimes downright negative with each other.  When a white candidate said something, there was a good chance the others would pounce on it and shred it.  Yet, when Jesse Jackson said something, it was treated respectfully (on the surface) and not attacked.  It was almost as if the retarded child at a family dinner says something, and everyone present treats it with a “that’s nice, dear” sort of premise as opposed to critically evaluating it. So, short-term, it was helpful to Jesse Jackson, in that he wasn’t subjected to the same verbal attacks, but long-term it was counterproductive because it’s hard to conclude he was taken seriously, and that’s really more condescending than nice. I have no doubt that Jesse Jackson was being given special treatment due to him being black.

I’m writing this post in an era where Obama is President and more and more Democrats are becoming aghast at the actions of the candidate they voted for. Yet, Obama’s agenda was no intentionally-hidden mystery. He’s written a book in which he details his principles clearly, and even if one hadn’t read the book, his choice of adult friendships certainly make it no surprise that he’d do what he did, once in power. Close to 66 million people voted for Obama, but it’s safe to say that only a tiny fraction of these folks read his book and thus understood his motives — motives that he has translated into action with generally unpopular results.  Naive folks ascribe this to incompetence whereas it’s what I observe is actually a very successful implementation of Obama’s ideas.  The nature of these ideas are the problem.

Regardless of one’s party affiliation, there’s typically some remnant of pro-Americanism in most Americans’ values. By average Republican standards, Obama’s ideas and actions are so anti-American as to have merited impeachment long ago. Yet, Obama’s ideas are anti-American even by the standards of the average liberal. That makes me wonder how, in a culture where information is abundantly available on so many subjects, so many \Americans ended up voting into power a candidate whose idea set they truly didn’t know. It’s almost as if these voters were on autopilot. Some candid folks have made observations that make me conclude that the same thought process that made the Indian gentleman so welcome in the business networking group, regardless of merit, are what made Obama so welcome to become the new resident of the White House.

Martin_Luther_King_-_March_on_WashingtonI think MLK had it right the first time. I’d much rather we all be color-blind as to skin color and that we evaluate individuals by the content of their character. A positive decision based on racism is nicer than a negative one, but it’s still not basically fair.

Some folks have argued for a “yes, but” clause and it goes something like this: Imagine you see a black person trying to make headway in a culture dominated by other races and in which he’s got an artificially difficult struggle due to racism being aimed against him.  In such situations, it might be an act of fairness to try to counteract the racist forces by being extra nice and supportive to that particular individual.

I can see some limited merit to that thought process, but it is based on a set of assumptions that might soon cease to be valid and then this recipe fosters injustice as opposed to injustice.

All of this brings me to a phenomenon that helps me understand how transgender girls are being treated in popular culture today. A popular TV series is titled “Orange is the new Black.”  I adapt the premise to “Transgender is the new Black.”  Many of the black-discrimination problems, pro and con, map to transgender-discrimination problems.

As for the negative aspects of transgender discrimination, examples abound and I don’t need to mention any of them.  This story, ultimately, is about a positive example that happened to me, and it didn’t adversely impact anyone else in any material way, so I like it.

This week, I was staying at a Hampton Inn hotel in Las Vegas, and my schedule had been crazy. I’d driven 400 miles to Las Vegas that previous evening, then I had only a couple of hours’ sleep, and then I left the hotel at 3:30 a.m. or so to go drop off my romantic partner at the airport. On the way back, I drove down Las Vegas Boulevard and delighted in how pretty the place looks just as the sky was lightening in the East. I drove to the top of the Treasure Island parking garage and enjoyed the 360 degree view of the sky and the buildings of my favorite city. I walked through Treasure Island, stopping by their convenience store (which was open at 5 a.m., no problem) and then to Walgreens across the street, and finally to the Venetian for a cup of coffee.

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By the time I got back to the Hampton Inn, it was time for their breakfast, and I enjoyed that too.  After that, I was seriously sleep-deprived. The normal check-out time was 11 a.m. This meant that, at most, I had maybe three hours of sleep ahead of me. A delayed checkout would be really nice.  Sometimes, a Hampton Inn would extend the check-out time to 11:30 or even noon, and in extreme cases even 12:30.  A time of 1 p.m. is almost unheard of, but … how wonderful that would be!! Those two extra hours of sleep would mean a lot.

I approached the gentleman at the front desk, and he beamed at me. By now it’s pretty apparent to me that almost everyone who sees me knows immediately that I’m a transgender girl.  Only a very few people are so cerebral that they go by the mental model and cultural cues to where they focus on me being, fundamentally, a girl so well that my strong jawline doesn’t even register.

For the most part, I just proceed on the premise that folks know I’m a transgender girl (or in the case of less-advanced thought processes, at least something along those lines, e.g., a very-feminine-looking guy in a dress).

I asked for a late checkout and got the nicest smile, and an enthusiastic “yes” and an offer of 2 p.m.  Wow!!!  I thanked the gentleman profusely and went to my room to catch up on some much-needed sleep.

At 2 p.m., when I called the front desk to check out, the same gentleman answered the phone, and he proceeded to comment enthusiastically about my journey as a transgender girl, and how supportive he is of me being true to myself in a situation with so many challenges and obstacles.  That’s not exactly what he said, but that’s the gist of it as I understood it.  It was a warm and wonderful conversation.

Obviously, I was being treated differently due to being a transgender girl, but I was being treated extra nicely.  And, I did enjoy that, very much.

After checking out, I went to a nearby store and bought some flowers and went back to the hotel to give them to the gentleman, to say: “thank you for being so nice to me.”

It was a most positive experience for me.

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Emails to the Kansas City Life Insurance Company

“Discrimination” is often nowadays a bad word but I don’t think that this moral taint stands up to scrutiny in many of the contexts where it is used.

Transgender girls, if evaluated on merit, have some inherent basic benefits. We are genetic anomalies but we are not weak or flawed, as caring folks sometimes imply. Were transgender girls to simply be treated as we deserve, we would not need a slew of lawyers and regulators to coddle us with anti-discrimination laws or lawsuits. And, someone might be totally within his or her rights even if unfair in his or her treatment of transgender girls — or Hispanics, or black people, or Irish, or Catholics, or Protestants. Laws or lawsuits to enforce reasonable behavior tend to be counterproductive, and are themselves unreasonable behavior.  Yes, unfair behavior is a huge problem, but the solutions that I advocate are not laws or lawsuits but justice — specifically administered by bringing bad behavior to light. This brings me to the subject of this post, specific to life insurance.

Were I to manage a life insurance company in which one policyholder has a death wish, is suicidal and works as a stunt dummy …  whereas another policyholder has a family history of growing to be 110+ years old and seems well on her way to following in those footsteps, then I’d be delighted to discriminate against the former. I would charge the former person a vastly higher premium assuming I chose to even write the policy at all.

Were I in charge of the world, I’d fire every Insurance Commissioner and I’d abolish all the anti-discrimination laws and judgements and let the insurance companies insure whomever they want under whatever conditions they choose to offer, and if someone chooses that deal of their own free will, that’s all there is to it.

In such a context, as in life, people would evaluate others based on whether their behavior were reasonable, or not — and in the long run, they would reward reasonable behavior, and the market mechanism would do its good work.

With all that in mind, this brings me to an email I wrote to the Kansas City Life insurance company.  The email asked about how I make a change as to the beneficiary, and I also wrote:

“I’ve also recently found out that I’m transgender. I’ve gone through the legal process so that I’m now classified officially by my correct gender, female, including showing it as such on my driver’s license. Please look in the official records for Nevada under driver’s license 0401033xxx for confirmation so you don’t have to take my word for it. I also plan to be changing my name in the near future and when I have the paperwork for that I plan to advise you. Incidentally, there’s a lot of confusion on the subject of being transgender. It’s not a gender change. Someone like me literally has female brain wiring, physically. There’s no evidence to support it being something that develops while (or subsequent to) growing up, so that leaves “at birth” as the only logical alternative. So, I’m not asking you to make a change. I’m asking you to make a correction to reflect something that’s been in effect since 1962, when I was born. Thank you.”

I got the paperwork for the beneficiary change, and a deafening silence as to the transgender aspect. This didn’t bode well.  So, I wrote:

I have received the “change of beneficiary” form, thank you.  However, if there was anything in the documentation as to the transgender aspect, I didn’t see it.  Did I miss it? Did you send it?  Did you make the change? Is that in a separate letter, yet to come?

I don’t have their permission to quote their reply, so I won’t.  It basically comes down to them being unable to make a change, and the reasoning that the lady explained doesn’t scan as a grammatically lucid sentence regardless of how many times I re-read it.  Still, the gist of it seems to be that, at birth, I had the sex parts and genetics of a male, and that’s that.

They’re right. I did have male sex parts at birth.  If I didn’t, the doctor wouldn’t have checked “M” on the birth certificate after looking at my genitalia. Being transgender isn’t something that is apparent from external inspection. At birth, a transgender girl looks like a genetically integrated male.  That’s, um, fundamental to the entire issue. So, when I tell someone that I’m a transgender girl, that has the inherent premise that, yup, I was born with male sex parts.  Hearing that fed back to me wasn’t helpful.

I wasn’t born with male sex parts due to a curse from the Mummy; I had (and have) XY chromosomes. I’m quite sure. I had them tested by a DNA lab (yes, really).  Being a transgender girl and having XY chromosomes is, incidentally, not a given.  A friend of mine is a transgender girl and she doesn’t have XY chromosomes but instead has XXY chromosomes.  I wonder what box the life insurance company would like her to check, on their premises.

As I understand the insurance company’s reference to, um, sex parts, the mere presence of male sex parts reduces life expectancy. That line of reasoning would suggest that John Wayne’s Bobbitt’s life expetancy increased dramatically as soon as his external urination tube was cut off with a knife.  I don’t personally see the logic to that.  I’m aware that circumcision is alleged to have health benefits, but I think this is one place where “more is better”, as to removing tissue, doesn’t have a scientific basis.

As to the chromosome-related issue, independent of brain wiring, I address that in my reply to the insurance company (read on).

As to the insurance company claiming that they are unable to make the change, that’s sort of like a racist white girl telling a black guy she can’t date him because her dating policy, sadly, prohibits that. She can, of course, change her dating policy. Phrasing the issue as if it’s carved in stone just makes her seem as silly as the life insurance company does when it claims it cannot consider transgender girls to be, well, girls.

Anyway, here’s what I wrote in response to their reply:

Thank you for your reply. I didn’t like that the transgender half of my questions was ignored until I sent you a follow-up email. I also didn’t like your reply.

Please do escalate this issue up your management chain of command.

Also, please consider this correspondence to be on record, meaning that my half of it is likely to circulate around the Internet in the near future.

I made you aware that I’m transgender, not as a caprice but as formal change that is, for example, reflected in my Nevada driver’s license. You replied that even so, you won’t be able to change the gender on the life insurance policy because at birth the physical and genetic sex characteristics were male (is what I understand your point to be, it’s not super-clear what you wrote). You also invited me to call with any additional concerns. I do have concerns but I’d rather handle them in writing.
You’re an insurance company and you operate based on your own rules as to this sort of thing, so you can of course make the change I requested. It’s not a question of not being able to, it’s a question of choosing not to.

Presumably, when you write new policies, you don’t run DNA tests on the people or stare very carefully at their private parts, so when someone marks that she’s female on her insurance application form, I presume that’s all there is to it. I suspect that you insisting on the gender as written on the birth certificate (not to be confused with the gender at birth — key point), in a context wider than this email, is likely to end up with you being in the center of a firestorm of angry folks, some of whom have their lawyer on speed-dial.

Personally, I think you have every right to discriminate however you choose, since it’s your money and since dealing with you is an entirely voluntary, private association. However, I do think you’re being unreasonable and you, and the rest of the planet, might as well know it.

Basically, a transgender girl is someone who has a female brain structure, and the best available evidence suggests that this is already the case at birth. Presumably, many of the issues that make males more likely to die sooner are not linked to being an “outie” vs. an “innie” “down there.”.

Rather, a person’s brain structure seems likely to make them react to issues in a way that’s likely to cause […] them to live longer — or not. All other things being equal, a male’s brain structure is likely to inspire the person to do things that are more dangerous, including in a choice of career. The typical male approach to issues is competitive; the typical female approach is collaborative. As we analyze the issues more and more, we can come up with a very long list of reasons why the person’s brain structure is pivotal to insurance risk.

But, there’s more. Genetically integrated women (female brain, XX chromosomes) live longer than males in spite of the fact that they also are far more likely to have breast cancer, and are also at risk for cancer in their reproductive organs, which a girl like me lacks. If we’re focusing on chromosomes, then one more major male genetic risk factor is prostate cancer, and many or most transgender girls take hormones that just so happen to reduce the risk of … prostate cancer.

So, all other things being equal, it seems to me that the risk for insuring a transgender girl is less than the risk for insuring a genetically integrated male or a genetically integrated female. There is one major risk factor for transgender girls though. Transgender girls (who are less resilient than I) do have a higher-than-average risk of depression and suicide due to, ironically, an accumulation of the sort of discrimination that, in supreme irony, your company has just shown itself to be one more example of.

I have been a policy holder for so long that when I show up at my insurance agent, her eyebrows go up due to how far back she has to look to when the story began. Nevertheless, I don’t intend to keep sending you $45+ every month until one day your management finally comes around to doing the reasonable thing. So, I’m hereby canceling my policy, after all these years, effective ASAP.

I suspect that not every transgender girl whom you insure is likely to have as crisp a grasp of her rights and privileges as I do, and if my personal cynicism carries the day, my guess is that your management will continue to be dismissive of this issue until some class action lawsuit drains much of your hard-earned money into some attorney’s new summer home.

I wouldn’t agree with the premises of such a lawsuit, since I believe that you, as a private company, have every right to be unreasonable in your terms and conditions, and if someone nevertheless agrees to them, it’s a valid contract and life goes on. But, at an emotional level, I can certainly understand the feelings that will inspire a less principled individual to initiate such a lawsuit.

It’s sort of like the lady who spilled hot coffee in her lap and wrote McDonalds, who (as I recall the story, sent her a snide and mean reply). She then got mad, sued McDonalds and won. No, she wasn’t in the right, but it might have been better for McDonalds to be nice about it, without caving in on principle. The same premises apply here. While remaining within your rights, you can be unreasonable, or not. Either choice has consequences.

Anyway, since I’m canceling my policy, it’s not really my issue any more, but I do suspect it’s an issue in your company’s future.

Update: I received a mailed standard letter stating that if I want to change my name, here’s the form to complete, and if I really do want to cancel my policy, here’s the form to complete. Nothing in either letter responded to the above, i.e., it was totally ignored.